James Ashmore Creelman’s tragic death came after a short, yet prolific career in Hollywood as the screenwriter behind some of the most iconic horror films of the 1930s, so it seemed fitting that he should be featured in Horror Month’s edition of SCREENPLAY BY. The son of journalist James Creelman, James Ashmore Creelman was born in Marietta, Ohio in 1894. He graduated from Yale University, where he served as the editor of the humorous magazine The Yale Record, before moving to Hollywood in 1924. His film credits include Grit (1924, dir. Frank Tuttle), High Hat (1927), which he also directed, King Kong (1933, dir. Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack) and The Most Dangerous Game (1932, dir. Irving Pichel and Schoedsack), which I covered here. In September 1941, he jumped off a building to his death in New York City, at the age of 46.
Horror Month is here! I say this every year, don’t I? But that’s only because I adore classic horror (imagine…) and I love talking about it. So let’s get right into it! Here’s The Uninvited (1944, dir. Lewis Allen).
Rick Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) fall head over heels in love with Windward House, a beautiful abandoned Cornish house that is just perfect for a break from the hoo-ha that is London. Upon meeting the owners, Commander Beech (Donald Crisp) and his granddaughter Stella (Gail Russell), they discover that there is much more to the house than meets the eye…
The original ‘are you telling us the house is haunted?’ movie, The Uninvited, based on Dorothy Macardle’s novel, manages to make you forget its now all too familiar tropes by being a badass of a psychological horror fest. The love child of Rebecca (1940, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) and The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947, dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz), The Uninvited reels us in with its charm – the dog and squirrel moment being one of the cutest things ever on film -, and makes us stay with its powerful message about the past, life, family and what it all means. Like so many horror flicks of the era, The Uninvited relies on its ability to effectively tell its story through suggestion, with the help of its stunning cinematography by the great (and Oscar-nominated) Charles Lang. As a result, Lewis Allen’s directorial debut went almost entirely the way he intented, had it not been for one scene, which makes use of a very real ghost. Other than that, it’s all in your head – a horror trope which will never, ever go out of style.
The oldest member of the panel, Juror 9 (Joseph Sweeney) has probably seen it all and, because of that, he offers wisdom, compassion and understanding to an otherwise hostile and tense room. Though he is one of the most unassuming jurors as the film goes on, he is poignantly the second one to change his vote from ‘guilty’ to ‘not guilty’, after witnessing Juror 8 (Henry Fonda) stand up for what he believes in, something Juror 9 can definitely appreciate. Symbolically, in the film’s last scene, the two formally introduced themselves to each other.
One of only six screenwriters to feature on one of my t-shirts (Big Sleep poster, woop!), Jules Furthman remains one of the most underrated screenwriters of his generation.
Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1888, he started his writing career as a magazine and newspaper writer under the name Stephen Fox. Throughout the 1910s and 20s, he wrote a ridiculous amount of screenplays, adaptations and scenarios, including The Way of All Flesh (1927, dir. Victor Fleming) and The Docks of New York (1928), the latter marking the beginning of his collaboration with director Josef von Sternberg. A writer-director duo that is often overlooked, they worked on such films as Morocco (1930), Blonde Venus (1932) and Shanghai Express (1932), among others. In 1935, he received his only Oscar nomination for Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, dir. Frank Lloyd), losing to Dudley Nichols, whom we covered here. In the late 30s and throughout the 40s, he often wrote for Howard Hawks, including Only Angels Have Wings (1939), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946) and Rio Bravo (1959), his last screenplay. Hawks supposedly said of him, ‘If there are five ways to play a scene, Furthman will find a sixth.’ Jules Furthman passed away from a brain hemorrhage in Oxford, England in 1966 at the age of 78.
Though he may seem timid and unsure at first, Juror 5 (Jack Klugman) offers something invaluable to the discussion: personal experience. His tough upbringing in the slums is similar to ‘the kid’s’ and though he tries not to let that get in the way, he relates to him nonetheless and provides insight into the mind of a teenager from a rough background, particularly during the switchblade debacle. His relatability and the other jurors’ snobbish attitude towards both him and the defendant serve as an example of how to treat people from different walks of life and his input is a reminder that everyone’s life experience is valid.
I couldn’t possibly cover 104 years of absolute badassary and do them justice, but, in my review of The Dark Mirror (1946, dir. Robert Siodmak) a few years ago, I referred to Olivia de Havilland as one of those ‘universally beloved people in the classic film world’ and the outpouring of love following her passing last month proves that. Her immense talent, dedication and wise choice of roles are a reflection of her hard-working nature and, if her infamous lawsuit against Warner Bros in 1944 – look it up – is anything to go by, she was just as fierce offscreen as she was onscreen. Like her BFF Bette Davis, Olivia fought for better parts and resisted the Hollywood studio system at a time when that just wasn’t possible. She re-invented her career time and again, ended up winning two Oscars for To Each His Own (1946, dir. Mitchell Leisen) and The Heiress (1949, dir. William Wyler) out of five nominations and, after 50 years in the business, she was made a Dame of the British Empire in 2017. A legacy such as hers shouldn’t have to require online articles entitled ‘More than just Melanie’ or ‘Ten Olivia de Havilland movies that aren’t Gone With The Wind’, especially because it seems to have been an exception, rather than the rule, but somehow her life and career seems to get lost in wider circles who no doubt know all about Bette, Kate or Joan. Yet, like them, Olivia was a baddass. And as she joins her old friends in Hollywood Heaven, we shall continue to honor her here on earth. Farewell, Olivia!
I swear I’m not deliberately going for blacklisted screenwriters for SCREENPLAY BY every time, but the fact that they keep popping up says a lot about Hollywood’s bleakest period. Here is the most notorious of the Hollywood Ten, Ring Lardner Jr.
The son of famed humorist Ring Lardner, he was born in Chicago in 1915. He studied at Princeton and at the Anglo-American Institute of the Uiversity of Moscow before returning to New York in the mid-1930s, where he worked at the Daily Mirror for a while before moving to Hollywood. He signed with David O. Selznick and worked as a script doctor and publicist and, in 1942, he wrote the screenplay for Woman of the Year (dir. George Stevens) with Michael Kanin, for which he got the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. He went on to write the scripts for Laura (1944) and Forever Amber (1947) for Otto Preminger before the you-know-what hit the fan. Lardner’s left-wing views, which he allegedly acquired during the Spanish Civil War, led to him being questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. He refused to answer their questions, along with nine other creatives, making him one of the Hollywood Ten (this is too extensive to cover here but please do look it up). He was sentenced to twelve months in prison and fined for ‘contempt of Congress’. After this, he could only find work under a pseudonym and, along with Ian McLellan Hunter, also blacklisted and under a pseudonym, wrote such TV shows as The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Buccaneers. In 1965, he was hired to write the screenplay for The Cincinatti Kid (dir. Norman Jewison) and in 1970, he wrote M*A*S*H* (dir. Robert Altman), for which he won his second Oscar, for Best Adapted Screenplay. One of his last screenwriting credits was the Muhammad Ali film The Greatest (1977, dir. Tom Gries). The last surviving member of the Hollywood Ten, Ring Lardner Jr died in 2000 at the age of 85. His memoir ‘I’d Hate Myself in the Morning’, named after part of his response in the blacklist enquiry, was published shortly after.
As the foreman, Juror 1 (Martin Balsam) tries his best to keep the peace and remain unbiased. He is also the only one who doesn’t ever explain his reasoning for voting guilty and subsequently not guilty. With his non-confrontational attitude, Juror 1 is a much-needed addition to the group, especially towards the second half, when, ironically, his stint as the moderator becomes moot as the tensions rise…
If terrorizing the nation behind the scenes with one of the most iconic radio broadcasts of all time wasn’t enough to put Howard Koch on the map, then turning an obscure play into an American film classic surely sealed the deal.
Born in 1901 in New York City, Howard Koch studied law before turning his attention to plays. After a few flops on Broadway, his play The Lonely Man became a hit in Chicago. After this, he began writing for Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater on the Air, adapting H. G. Wells’ novel War of the Worlds into the now infamous 1938 radio special. The following year, he signed a contract with Warner Bros and had a string of hits, including The Sea Hawk (1940, dir. Michael Curtiz), The Letter (1940, dir. William Wyler) and Sergeant York (1941, dir, Howard Hawks), culminating in his adaptation, with Julius and Phillip Epstein, of Murray Burnett and Joan Alison’s play Everybody Comes to Rick’s into, you guessed it, Casablanca (1942, dir. Michael Curtiz), for which he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. He followed this with Mission to Moscow (1943, dir. Michael Curtiz) and Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948, dir. Max Ophuls), the former being the source of his blacklisting in 1951. Like so many others, he ended up fleeing to the United Kingdom, returning five years later, after which he continued writing plays and getting involved with political causes. His memoir As Time Goes By was published in 1979 and, in 1995, Howard Koch died at the age of 93.
If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ll be familiar with Classic Hollywood Stars React and more recently, 31 Days of Summer Movies. And because it’s July (hurrah!), I decided to combine the two, so here is Classic Hollywood stars react to the Summer! Because I’m crazy.
Red Dust (1932, dir. Victor Fleming) – Jean Harlow enjoys a bath in the rain-barrel, in one of the most iconic scenes in all of Pre-Code!
Mogambo (1953, dir. John Ford) – In the 1953 remake of Red Dust, Ava Gardner (playing Harlow’s role) kicks off the movie in a similar fashion!
The Lady from Shanghai (1947, dir. Orson Welles) – Despite its convoluted plot, intrigue and double crosses, the summer-y goodness of The Lady from Shanghai is delicious…
The Seven Year Itch (1955, dir. Billy Wilder) – Not the most famous scene from the film, but that one was too obvious. Instead, here’s this one!
Rear Window (1954, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) – The couple sleeping on the balcony is such a mood…
To Catch a Thief (1955, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) – Because obviously. My ultimate summer movie! <- Look!